Music

In Praise of Built to Spill's "The Weather"

“The Weather” is the dreamy and evocative final track on Built to Spill's 2001 release Ancient Melodies of the Future, and it's a song that's certainly no "dud".

In an otherwise lively, judicious, and conversant article that ranked Built to Spill's albums from worst to best, Stereogum critic Chris DeVille took a departure from sound judgment with this puzzling perspective: he referred to "The Weather" as a "dud". At the risk of being dramatic, let me state that prior to this I'd never heard or read anyone venture a slighting word about "The Weather". I may have stood quiet had tamer language been used, but "dud" represents a bridge too far.

For those unaware, “The Weather” is the dreamy and evocative final track on Ancient Melodies of the Future, the Idahoan indie-rock act's 2001 full-length. As a whole, the album doesn’t amount to much more than solid and enjoyable -- especially coming on the heels of heady, near-flawless heavyweights like Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret -- but it does boast some stand-out moments, including "Strange", "You Are", and – yes – "The Weather".

Though BTS leadman Doug Martsch hasn’t written many ballads, preferring detailed and searching reflections on everyday goings-on, the mysteries of existence, and God, “The Weather” is just the kind of love song you’d expect him to write. It’s very human and compelling; it conceals as much as it reveals; and it contains one unforgettable line.

The line: "As long as it’s talking with you / Talk of the weather will do". What a gem. It should be cloying, but Martsch’s oh-so sincere voice makes it sound straight from the heart. In his handling, the saccharine becomes the sublime.

Much of the lyric finds Martsch tenderly addressing a dear someone who’s likely his wife. He sings of the wonders that belong to the natural world and the cosmos - snow, stars, sunshine - yet he can’t escape this conclusion: "None of those would matter much without you."

On this level, "The Weather" is a song of settled and content love. Martsch isn’t trying to prove his affection or win someone back. Rather, he’s already there, he’s already home. He just wants to be side by side with his wife so he can bask in what they've built together. It’s an at-ease and mature love.

Yet there’s also an undertow of melancholy and uncertainty that’s hard to shake. What to make of this series of lyrics toward the end? "Nobody’s hoping for better days / No one knows what to do / You’re okay in your secret place / No one bothering you". These are oblique and impressionistic details that seem haunted by something wistful. But maybe not. It’s hard to pin down. Either way, we can’t know exactly how this cryptic section fits into the broader narrative. Martsch keeps us on the outside looking in. (And this is to say nothing of the hard-to-decipher questions that Martsch asks in the verses.)

Sonically, "The Weather" encourages a more ambivalent reading. It builds and builds, from a calm acoustic strum to a mutedly buoyant full-band performance to a tangled and echo-y closing stretch that plays like a distant atmospheric occurrence. As the pace builds, so does a murky sense of urgency. By the end, it feels like daylight has completely faded, and something unexpected may be at hand.

Yet Martsch doesn’t change tack amidst this uptick. In fact, he just stays put: "I might save time / If I meet you there / But I don’t care / I’d rather wait for you". It’s another expression of love that combines the small-scale with the deeply-felt. Against the backdrop of the night sky's expansive beauty, it makes for a perfect scene. Not to mention, a perfect little song.


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